The speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, on Thursday said he would pursue defamation charges against PREMIUM TIMES for allegedly publishing a “libellous” material circulated by a former chairman of House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin.
Mr. Dogara said he gave this newspaper a seven-day grace period for it to retract and apologise for publishing the July 25 article which Mr. Jibrin said he distributed to media houses to throw more light on the unfolding budget padding scandal involving him, Mr. Dogara and other House principal officers.
In a letter dated July 27 and titled: “Demand for Apology for a Libelous Publication Contained in the Front Page of Your Newspaper of July 26, 2016,” Mr. Dogara quoted excerpts of the article and said their publication caused him “public opprobrium, odium, scorn and ridicule”.
Mr. Dogara and Mr. Jibrin had been locked in fierce political and media battle after the latter was removed as chair of the appropriation committee last Wednesday.
Mr. Jibrin, a lawmaker from Kano State, said Mr. Dogara colluded with his deputy, Yusuf Lasun, Chief Whip Alhassan Doguwa, and Minority Whip Leo Ogor to allot up to ₦40 billion to themselves in the budget.
The lawmakers denied the allegations and said Mr. Jibrin was angry because he lost his position as chairman of Committee on Appropriation.
Mr. Dogara’s letter to PREMIUM TIMES was written by a law firm, Messrs. Joash Ojo Amupitan (SAN) and Co., and was signed by Johnson Usman, a legal partner in the firm.
“The personal references are obviously directed at our client and amount to a very serious libel,” the letter said.
“Take notice that in the event of your failure/refusal to unconditionally retract your false and defamatory statements within seven (7) days of the receipt of this letter, you will have left us with no choice but to proceed with legal action against you. In that event, we will pursue all options to undo the reputational injury caused by you including a claim for aggravated and exemplary damages,” Mr. Dogara’s lawyers said.
PREMIUM TIMES’ legal adviser, Jiti Ogunye, said this paper did nothing untoward in publishing Mr. Jibrin’s allegations, and said Mr. Dogara’s threat was “unwarranted and legally offensive”.
Mr. Ogunye said Mr. Dogara’s action was aimed at stifling the freedom of the press.
“Indeed, it is a calculated but an unacceptable attempt to kill the right to freedom of expression and the press,” Mr. Ogunye said. “Section 22 of the Constitution imposes a duty on the press to hold the government accountable to the people. And what PREMIUM TIMES is doing is a very professional and responsible discharge of that constitutional duty.”
“The allegations and counter allegations from both sides are fairly reflected in PREMIUM TIMES reports and it is in the public interest that PREMIUM TIMES is upholding the right of the Nigerian people to know.”
Mr. Ogunye said Mr. Dogara was trying to drag PREMIUM TIMES into the corruption scandal rocking the House in order to create a legal loophole for himself and others enmeshed in it.
“A mischief is afoot because this threat to institute a civil action alleging defamation of character may just be a way to immediately deposit the allegations in a court so that they can say ‘because the matter is already in court it can no longer be entertained before the House.’”
Mr. Ogunye said rather than threaten PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Dogara should preoccupy himself with relentless invitation to the EFCC and ICPC to come in and investigate the scandal, adding that PREMIUM TIMES would remain firm in its resolve to ensure that Nigerians remain abreast of unfolding developments in the scandal as well as other cases of sharp practices in public service.
“PREMIUM TIMES cannot be intimidated by the Speaker or anyone else because the shield of PREMIUM TIMES is integrity and adherence to the highest professional standards in journalism,” Mr. Ogunye said.
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